The Story of Joe Hancock

One of the greatest quarter-mile horses in all history had a typically American “rags to riches” career.

One of the greatest quarter-mile horses in all history had a typically American “rags to riches” career.

Joe Hancock
AQHA Hall of Fame horse Joe Hancock. Quarter Horse Magazine photo.

From Quarter Horse Magazine

Out on a Panhandle prairie in the late summer of 1923, a middle-aged horseman stood talking to his son, who had come to visit him. This man had bred some great Quarter Horses, and he owned John Wilkens, one of the truly great sons of Peter McCue. The man’s name was Walter Hancock.

“See that doggie colt out there,” he told his son. “I’m tired of looking at him. Figure out some way to load him up and take him away from here.”

They went next day, the doggie colt in a “wagon” trailer (they all were in the early ’20s) and the son, secretly proud of a chance to “make a horse.” He was a horseman, too, and while he knew that this doggie was out of a Texas range mare of average breeding, he was by John Wilkens, and all the world knew that this son of Peter McCue had phenomenal early speed. John Wilkens was one of those tragedies of the horse world – a horse as truly great a speedster as his sire, but doomed to obscurity because of small, soft feet.

The doggie colt went down in the Henrietta country, and Walter Hancock’s son grew him into a horse of tremendous stature.

He was so big of limb and so strong as to almost be a freak. One had to remember, as they looked at him, that his sire was John Wilkens, a great quarter running horse, and that his grandsire was Peter McCue, greatest dash horse of all time.

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But young Hancock never forgot it, and in the summer of 1925, he saddled the colt and set out for Oklahoma, which was not far away. He had been working out the colt and knew he wanted more expertness hold of him. He had been writing George Ogles, one of Oklahoma’s finest trainers and notably good at lap and tap racing. Let Ogles take up the story, as told to Lige Reed of Iowa Park.

“This Hancock kid never let up on me about having a sprint horse, and naturally, I paid no attention to him. Finally, to make him quit writing, I told him I’d try the colt out on a basis of feed bills paid in advance. He came right on up with him, and I never saw a more ragged horse. He left him, and the next morning, I decided to break him off. Before I could do it, I had to burr him, and just to look at his feet was enough. I never even picked up the nippers – he had the biggest, roughest, hardest feet I ever saw on a horse. I just took a pole axe and trimmed them like you would a dry mesquite stump.

“Then we took them out, and as I was working a good, fast horse for an early race date, I decided to break the colt away at him. Hancock had him gentle enough, and pretty well-mannered, so I rode him and let my son ride my own racing horse. We went a quarter, and the Hancock colt beat my horse plumb easy.

“ ‘What did you hold my horse in for?’ I asked my son, when we pulled up. ‘I didn’t pa,’ he answered. ‘I spanked him every jump.’

“I was far from sure, so we walked them out, and blew them about an hour, and then I took out my own horse, and put my son on the Hancock colt. All that colt did was daylight me that quarter.

“I was simply knocked over. I couldn’t believe it had happened, but I knew my brother was training an awful good horse and had him fully ready. I asked him to come over and take a fall at the Hancock colt.

“He came right on, and we decided to really blow them out. We put two light boys up, and Hancock won going away.

“That settled it. ‘Boys,’ I said, ‘Joe Hancock is going to work, and he’s going to shake Oklahoma to the roots.’ ”

That describes exactly what happened. Right there on that training track, a great tradition was born – that for a quarter mile, you could not outrun Joe Hancock, and for greater distances, he would outrun you so far early in the race you could not overhaul him with a good distance horse. George Ogles stated flatly to Lige Reed that while he raced him – and he was the only man who ever race him – he was unbeaten at any distance. There is only one contradiction. There is a statement made by one man that he rode the Mountain mare against Joe Hancock in a half-mile race and beat him. No one ever claimed to have beaten him at a quarter mile or under. Repeated instances are claimed that Joe Hancock broke 22 seconds for a quarter mile from a flying start. He ran on Oklahoma and North Texas tracks for nearly five years and beat so many good horses he could not be matched or entered, so Ogles decided to sell him (he had purchased him by prior agreement from Hancock) for retirement to stud service.

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This was done in late 1931, and the final chapter of this great Quarter Horse’s life proved as noteworthy as the first. He was always in good hands and became a great Quarter Horse sire and showed such great prepotency that even before the resurgency of Quarter Horse activity in the Southwest, he was lifting the level of ranch and roping and running performance horses single handedly. He was used extensively, on all types of mares, and like his prepotent grandsire, Peter McCue, could bring you a Quarter Horse from all types. His get had every quality. They could work cattle superbly, perform in the rodeo arena and run. They had the build, stamina and intelligence of true Quarter Horses.

Joe Hancock died in 1944 but his sire line proved in his sons. They, too, produced great Quarter Horses, and his grandsons followed the family’s greatness. Among notable sires in his group of sons are Joe Tom, Red Man, Roan Hancock, Joe Hancock’s Steeldust and King County Joe. There are others, of course, and other generations continue to do well in the show ring, on the ranch and on the track.

Joe Hancock was inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in 1992.

32 thoughts on “The Story of Joe Hancock”

  1. Yes I agree, I have 2 geldings with Joe Hancock lines, one is
    a natural for cattle, the other loves to run. Easy to train. They also have the Steeldust line.

  2. I think the picture caption at the top is a little off. It says “Joe Hancock 1949,” but the last paragraph says he died in 1944. Just wondering which one is right. Could be just a simple typo somewhere.

  3. My father bought a grandson of Joe Hancock back in 1952, when I was 10 years old. They called him Billy Joe but I don’t know what his registered name was. He was the best race horse that my dad owned at the time. After racing he was made into a roping horse and he was known as one of the best rope horses in the El Paso area. He was injured later while rounding up some wild mares and had to be retired from roping. He became a great kids horse that anyone could ride. He was just a good all around horse.

  4. There have been other great QH’s do phenomenal things but with the greatest of planned breeding, care, & opportunities given them. Single-handedly, Joe Hancock, from the most humble beginnings changed the Quarter Horse industry forever with his speed, substance, breeding prepotency, and great mind. He is undoubtedly one of, if not the most well-known, with the longest-lasting influence of all early QH’s. To think he died in 1944, at 21 when the QH association was in its infancy, formed in 1940. Imagine what a record he would have had, if it would have all been carefully manicured and recorded like today’s horses. He and his greatest sons & daughters performed largely w/o any written records being kept. Nearly seven decades after his death, breeders and performers are still touting the qualities that made Joe Hancock famous. After 70 years of specialized breeding for more cow, more speed, smaller heads, smaller feet, there might be some that could outrun him today at 1/4 mile; might be some more cowy; smaller heads and feet – for what? Soundness issues, ulcers, ticks, bad habits, usecd up by the time they are 10. At 21, with a bad wire cut that eventually led to his death, infection ravaging his body, Joe’s semen was tested while treated by a vet in Abilene TX,. It was stronger than a young, healthy breeding stallion on the premises. They just don’t make them like Joe Hancock any more!!! Long live Hancocks!!

  5. Blue Valentine (by Red Man) being probably the most prolific grandson of Joe Hancock, has been nominated to the AQHA Hall of Fame. As a ranch sire, he carried on the tradition of Joe Hancock.

  6. My friend has a QH mare with only one line tracing to Joe, but she looks like him anyway. I guess she’s what people call “Hancock” bred.

  7. I have a 7 year old Blue Valentine,Hancock,Blue Roan gelding.. He is tall and built like a tank.. He is smart and a real character to be around..I love reading about his bloodlines and hearing from other Hancock/Blue Valentine horse stories..Like Baru said,”Long Live Hancocks.”

  8. I have a 5 yr old Valentine Hancock and love him! My last horse had hancock bloolines. And I am sure all my next horses will be of Valentine Hancock bloolines. 🙂

  9. Cannot wait to see my baby off of this Bloodline…July 2012 is going to be a great month

  10. I have a bay gelding with Hancock blood. Everyone wants to buy him not just because he is a looker but he will do as you ask. I bought him at aution. He was only brought there because he grew too tall for team penning. I started him trail riding and got him used to some contact and moved him over to dressage. He has been best in show at training level, and that was a recognized show, not schooling. He has been reserve champion at a hunter show and he is the best trail horse ever. But, the wonderful job he does for me has been as a model. He is the horse on our web site,

    With those nets King Hickory Star never has to suffer fly spray.

  11. or Wantmore Land and Cattle L L C on Facebook, My Hancock Horses, out of some great mares,, None better than a Hancock!

  12. Also owned a blue roan gelding, gr grandson of Blue Valentine, Joe Hancock line, loved him very much, HAD to sell (practically give away) in 2008. He was tanky and tall.

  13. My great uncle WAS Joe Hancock (the man). My father, who is still alve, grew up very close to the Hancock family (his mother was married to Cora Hancock, Joe’s wife) and he was great friends with his cousin Billy Joe Hancock, who just recently died this past year.

    Dad grew up around the horse Joe Hancock and he and his brothers and cousins all had the great pleasure to ride Hancock horses all during their childhood. In keep with the comments already posted, they almost always rode bareback since these horses had such great dispositions and “horse sense”.

    Dad eventually was able to breed and own a few Hancock horses, one of whom he named Cora Hancock in honor of his aunt, wife of Joe Hancock. Dad still has the Hancock racing silks and saddle hanging in his house.

    Gotta love a Legend!!!!

  14. My pride & joy is HANDY JET HANCOCK sired Remuda Jet Rastus.
    His dame,Miss D.J.Hancock – his Gr. dame, Liscott Hancock,
    his Gr. Gr.dame,Julie Hancock,sired by Tom Hancock with Gr.Gr.Gr.dame, Sqaw M. And then Tom Hancock son of Joe and
    Triangle Lady 7
    As anybody can tell, I am proud of Handy and his grand parents.

    The traits inherited by Handy are still being passed on today
    to his kids in barrel racing,roping cow sense training and an
    overall good disposition.Did I leave out a set of good hard feet.

  15. Several years ago, I was searching through the AQHA classified adds, searching for a stallion to breed to a few of my mares. I click on a page, and immediately saw, what I thought was a stallion who possessed everything I wanted in a sire. The photo was not professionally produced, but all the greatness of this horse jumped off the page. I clicked on his imformation and was immediately swep away. His name was Mr Clyde Hancock. My foals have all grown into tough, do anything, loving horses. RIP Clyde, you are missed.

  16. Like some of the other posters, I also have a Hancock-bred blue roan mare with Blue Valentine bloodlines. She’s smart, with loads of personality, very willing, strong, and kind-hearted – an all round great horse. I look forward to introducing her to cows soon. Based on her heritage, I’ve no doubt that she will excel.

  17. The past year or so I have been wanting to start barrel racing and pole bending. I really can’t say why as I am 55 yrs old. About 6 wks ago I found a horse that I wanted to purchase who was advertised as fast and a 1D/2D horse. I drove from Nashville to Texas to pick him up. He is tall and lanky, a little on the skinny side and at 14 yrs old he looks a little rough. He also has a big personality. I found his name to be a little strange so I starting searching. He is a Hancock horse! I am so pleased to find this website and read about his past ancesters. I hope “Leo Hancock Possum” and I have many yrs of success!

  18. I currently have a 27 yr old mare that Ive been shopping for a replacement for her when she passes. With alot of research, I think I finally found her. I just purchased a 2 1/2 yr old Blue Valentine brown filly. She was already broke to ride. My 12 yr old daughter and I were very impressed in how well she rode. She rode as good as my daughters 12 yr Qtr.Paint Mare and of course as good as my old AQHA mare at such a young age. Duchess’ disposition and personality is amazing. She catches on to learning so quick. She chases cattle, trots barrels and poles, crosses mud puddles and ponds.. What impressed me the most is how she will put her head down and plow through brush without hesitation. Im in Love with Blue Valentine/Hancock Foundation bloodlines. I hope Duchess lives for the next thirty years!!!!

  19. I just happened to see this earlier today. It interested me because Joe Hancock (the man) was my grandpa. I grew up on the little ranch, in the house that overlooks the corrals where Joe Hancock (the horse) lived much of his life.

    Over the years, there have been MANY articles about Joe Hancock (some I have written) and unfortunately, quite a few of them contained numerous inaccuracies. This article is one of the inaccurate pieces.
    According to my dad, Tom Hancock, Grandpa used to read them and chuckle wondering why the writers didn’t conduct any true research.

    I saw where Scott S. asked if I was the author was B.J. Hancock (me). Although I have written several Hancock articles over the years and continue to write outdoor articles, “No. This was not written by me.”

    My dad gave a few interviews to The Western Horseman, QHJ, and was on Red Stegall’s “In the Bunkhouse” a couple of times discussing Joe Hancock. These were correct.

    Joe Hancock’s legacy is intact thru his progeny and it is great to read the comments by Hancock Horse aficionados.


  20. I reviewed my comments and they seem a little “sharp”; I didn’t mean to come across rudely. I just wanted to illustrate that this story had numerous inaccuracies.

  21. We have a blue roan 4 year old gelding that is Blue Valentine. Hancock breeding. when we tell people what he is the first words are
    I bet he bucks But this is the total opposite he is so gentile and such a people horse we think if we would let him he would sit on our couch and watch Tv with us We love this breeding

  22. Mr. Bill Hancock. Of all the comments in this stream of notes, I was more than thrilled to keep reading and find a posting from “a grandson of the elder Hancock”. Pretty neat. I grew up in a region of the country that also used a lot of Hancock bred horses…Sandhills of Nebraska. Most notable breeders of QHorses in the area was Mr. Waldo Haythorn. The Haythorn/Brown family relationship in the Quarter Horse industry is as fun a read in history as is the story of the Hancocks. What a read, what a find. Kindest Regards, Tammy Goldammer

  23. Mr Bill Hancock,,

    I have heard that the mare line of the original Hancock horses had percheron, and Morgan influence, Is there any truth to this?,, Or was the Morgan Influence no more, or less than other quarter horses of the day??

    craig Neal

  24. Tammy,

    Yes, the NE sandhills sure has some good Hancock horses; Wyoming and Montana also produce a great many Hancocks.

    There was some “little boned” Percheron in the mare line. As far as Morgan goes, there was none that I ever heard of.

    Of course, QH lineage, that far back, was not documented in a central (controlled) data repository (the AQHA didn’t even come into being until 1940). It was simply passed down word-of-mouth or possibly scribbled in personal journals, etc.


  25. I am purchasing a blue roan colt Saturday. He is 18 months and beautiful! He will be used for ranch work and catte. I’m 28 an had one horse since I was 8 years old, best horse I’ve ever known; I put her down a year ago with a broken canon bone, and I have been heartbroken. I trained this saddlebred and he is not level headed like I need, nor cow smart. I’m nervous, but I have a great feeling about Lane ( the Hancock colt). I named him after the bull rider, Lane Frost. I hope he loves me as much as my mare did.
    Bless y’all,

  26. I just purchased a 2 yr old blue roan filly. She has Double Hancock/ Blue Valentine breeding. Honestly, I had never heard of this breeding. I live in Ohio. I have always owned American Paint horses. She was about an hour away. Had only been forsale a few days. I went to see her and I thought she was a nice horse, kind eye, not pushy. 15.2 and still growing. She has had 45 days training and honestly it seems like she has had a lot more. She’s fantastic! Imagine how much more thrilling it is since I have investigated her bloodlines and find all these great articles on her bloodlines! Can’t believe I really got a good deal on her. QH Congress is coming up here in a few weeks, Columbus, Ohio. No wonder the people I purchased her from said they could have sold her two or three times over for more money to people in the east coming to QH Congress. I thought they were fooling. I feel kind of guilty now, I talked them down in price….. ; ) She came out of OK, the McCoy Ranch is what they said. Well she’s got a fantastic home now. I really like her and I’m hard to please, so I’m told Diane

  27. I am doing genealogy research on my husbands side of the family. I have been told that my husbands grandfather, Haskell V. Winters, was one of Joe Hancocks jockeys. Do you have any information to confirm this. I know at one time I seen a picture of them both in an old magazine but can’t remember which one. Any info would be great. Thanks!!!

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